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The PIPELINE

A national monthly newsletter for agency principals dedicated to agency management topic

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IT IS NEITHER BAD, NOR GOOD – IT IS SIMPLY INEVITABLE

Attempting to remain stable in a changing environment is as futile as building walls to keep the tides from rising. When faced with the waves caused by the changing tides, the wisest of us learn to surf. When faced with the changing economic and industry conditions that face independent agencies in the 21st Century, the wisest of agents learns to ride the waves of change, rather than fight them.

Change is hard for all of us. It is easier, however, for those businesses that face failure and losses due to performance-related problems. Change out of weakness, while difficult to implement, is always easy to reconcile and rationalize. The most difficult change, on the other hand, is changing from a position of strength.

No “High Performance” agency is strong in every area. However, they are all growth-and profit-oriented and are proud of their position and results. This pride is the cause of the downfall of many agencies that seem to have ‘peaked’ and become stale. They are proud of their successes and that pride leads them to protect the systems and procedures that were so innovative when they introduced them to pierce through their competition years ago. But the innovative procedures, systems and workflows of yesterday become stale in a short time and become protectionist against new innovations in systems, procedures, workflows, marketing and service.

The most successful agencies in the United States share two common traits:

1) the philosophy of continuous change, and

2) 2) the feeling of celebrated discontent.

Continuous Change is easy to define and difficult to implement. Philosophically, the agency recognizes that it will never be stable. It understands the “incline theory”, which states that a business is like a vehicle on an incline with no brakes. If you do not apply enough energy to advancement, you will eventually slip back, and the tricky part is that you never know how much energy it takes to keep moving forward. You cannot exert maximum effort every day or you will burn out your staff, as a vehicle burns out its engine, but you must continuously apply energy levels to change in order to move your business forward. And you MUST monitor the results on an on-going basis, in order to determine if the energy is the right kind and if the degree of effort is strong enough to keep your business moving in the right direction. This is the very difficult task of professional management.

Agencies of all sizes whose owners understand the philosophy of continuous change also understand the key role played by its managers. That role is equal to the production and retention roles played by the insurance professionals devoted to those tasks. The use of dedicated management is one of the key separators of Level Two agencies ($1 Million - $2 Million revenue) from Level Three agencies ($2 Million to $3 Million revenue). An agency typically uses insurance professionals as part-time managers to get from Level 1 (under $1 Million revenue) to Level Two. However, the use of dedicated, professional management, to accomplish the agency’s long-term goals, is a commitment that only the successful transitioning agencies accommodate in their growth to Level Three. When discussing the changes needed to move a successful agency to its next level, the professional managers are the keys to implementing those changes. After all, the producers and service staff are already working hard and bringing dollars to the bottom line already. These groups rarely view change favorably, even though they will be its beneficiaries in the long term. Only the owners and managers are responsible and committed to creative change in most businesses.

Celebrated Discontent is the feeling that the goals achieved, the growth realized, and the profits generated are to be commended and rewarded, but can never satisfy nor be assumed to be sufficient. The sign of the very best is that they are always reaching for the next level of performance using the successes of the past as stepping-stones to the future. This is a philosophy that eludes many owners who tire of the changing industry and wish for the simpler times in their careers. They seek status quo because it achieves their immediate financial goals, and there is always that “buyer” at the end of the rainbow that will buy the agency for a fat lump sum, ending the owner’s discontent for the change process. The excited minority, however, thrive on the challenge of change and use money only as a measuring stick of their successes. Those are the owners who can adopt the concept of Celebrated Discontent combined with Continuous Change within their organizations.

Every agency owner needs to ask himself (or herself), “Am I here to make a living, or am I here to grow a business?” There is nothing wrong either answer, but it certainly differentiates successful business people from successful entrepreneurs.